Antonio Giustozzi

The Afghan state was dying before the Taliban took over

An Afghan flag flies at a police outpost, 2014 (photo: Getty)

To understand how Afghanistan is going to change in the future, you have to first understand what the ‘Islamic Republic’ established by the United States was like. Even before the Taliban took over, Afghanistan’s democracy had been deteriorating for some time, with three presidential elections in a row ending in bitter controversies over vote rigging, manipulation and fraud on a massive scale. The parliamentary elections attracted less attention but were no less controversial. Voter participation had declined constantly and in 2019, when the latest elections were held, turnout probably did not exceed 10 per cent, although it is hard to know the exact figure.

Persistent insecurity and high levels of corruption weakened the legitimacy of the Republic. From the start, it resembled an oligarchy. The original Bonn agreement, which created the new Afghan state, allowed its signatories, that is the main anti-Taliban factions and personalities, to effectively operate outside the law.

The Islamic Republic was never meant to be socially inclusive, nor very democratic. The social activists and small grassroot organisations which had managed to survive the Taliban’s reign were relentlessly harassed by the new Afghan security services and were often driven into oblivion in the Republic’s early years. Only rather innocuous NGOs, which catered mainly for an international audience, thrived alongside the oligarchs and their local allies in the villages. The system of government adopted in 2003 was inclined towards autocracy, and concentrated all power in the hands of the president.

Afghans have little to lose in terms of political rights with the change of regime

The Islamic Republic was, however, more socially liberal than any previous period of Afghan history. Women had more rights than they had ever enjoyed, human rights were at least in principle protected, and some religious and ethnic monitories, such as the Hazaras and the Shi’as, no longer faced persecution from the state.

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